Richuk Karovim

letter-447577_1280

I have not read any of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin’s books but if I had, I doubt that I would be competent to judge the validity of his science or, for that matter, his hashkafah. I have looked at the overly long defenses of his work that he has posted. Whatever one thinks of his writings, the ban issued against his work is inappropriate and wrongful. Much the same can be said about several other celebrated recent condemnations of books, specifically including Rabbi Nosson Kaminetsky’s controversial works. There should be a more balanced and appropriate way of expressing disagreement with writers who are certainly shomere torah v’mitzvos without resorting to cherems and the like. In the present period, bans are counterproductive and not merely because they are likely to generate interest in the works that are being banned. More importantly, they turn off people whom we want to attract and others whom we want to keep. It is no secret that the kiruv movement is not what it used to be, primarily for reasons that arise from the openness of contemporary life and yet it is obvious that resorting to cherems and bans do not help the cause. It is also obvious that the outflow away from Orthodoxy is greater than the numbers whom we are attracting via kiruv. The condemnation of Rabbi Slifkin’s work and other works by Orthodox Jews has the collateral effect of turning people away from our religion.

We may not be able to do all that we want on the kiruv rechokim front, but we can do a better job in not being m’rachek karovim.

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23 Responses

  1. dov says:

    “stitching them together in an unconventional way that results in a mehalach in, say, undertanding Bereishis, that is completely outside any mahalech that has existed hitherto in Jewish history.” Well, obviously. The Rishonim didn’t have to deal with fossils and other evidence that is presented today. If they would have, they too would have had to innovate a new mehalech.

  2. othello says:

    “What the gedolim object to is the practice of taking a series of outlying shitas – a Tosfos Yomtov here, a Rambam there – and stitching them together in an unconventional way that results in a mehalach in, say, undertanding Bereishis, that is completely outside any mahalch that has existed hitherto in Jewish history. To say “well, the list of m’koros is drawn from gedolim through history” is completely beside the point.”

    Slifkin does this rather less than most others in his line of work. For the most radical claims, he is relying on RSRHirsch, R. Kook, and R Dessler (whose meaning might be disputed). R Hirsch and R Kook say what he says they say. In broader background, he is relying on sources such as the rambam to permit allegorization under some circumstances. This is either acceptable or unacceptable, but if it’s unacceptable, it’s not because he’s cobbling together different incompatible shitos.

    “to actually fudging the meaning of certain psukim.”

    funny. One of the reasons that Slifkin rejects simpler explanations of the “Days” of breishis (e.g. simply that the word “yom” literally means age, or G. Schroeder’s explanation that preserves p’shuto shel mikra) is that these explanations do violence to p’shuto shel mikra when they require translating kol of kanaf as winged insects.
    Less controversial figures are the ones “fudging” p’sukim not Slifkin. Slikfin straight out says that the best resolution is to treat ma’ase b’reishis as an allegory, describing a spiritual order of creation (not a literal order).

    “Baruch Hashem that we have such gedolim who can see things from a perspective better than our own.”

    you mean who didn’t read the book and so are describing something that could be wrong with it (and might be wrong with similar books) but in fact is not wrong with it? Or who read the book but are assuming their audience didn’t read the book?

  3. Joel Shurkin says:

    Where die he post his response? I haven’t been able to find it.

  4. Michoel says:

    Shalom,
    I like your post and linked to it at my own blog. http://aniyasdaati.blogspot.com/2005/01/igros-moshe-on-book-banning.html#c110717853325198205. My point was simply that sometimes banning is an appropriate response.

  5. Shlomo Dovid Freedman says:

    Very little Slifkin-related discussion in the blogsphere attempts to explain the rationale behind the cherem. Although it is not up to others to state what is on the minds of the gedolim, I’m sure there are many who could add some enlightenment.

    I had the zchus to speak with R’ Akiva Tatz recently and he shed some light on this topic. His approach was that the gedolim have a very clear understanding of what is in the mesora, and even an understanding of what is “mainstream” and what are “outlying” shitas within the mesorah. As the guardians of the millenia-old teachings that have been handed down to our day they must have absolute clarity on the content of that mesorah.

    What the gedolim object to is the practice of taking a series of outlying shitas — a Tosfos Yomtov here, a Rambam there — and stitching them together in an unconventional way that results in a mehalach in, say, undertanding Bereishis, that is completely outside any mahalch that has existed hitherto in Jewish history. To say “well, the list of m’koros is drawn from gedolim through history” is completely beside the point.

    There are other issues as well, such as giving credence to weak science in some cases, a projection of defensiveness, to actually fudging the meaning of certain psukim.

    I don’t pretend to represent Rabbi Tatz’ words exactly or to speak for the gedolim, obviously, but I’d like to urge anyone who is in a position to do so to tell us what we are to learn from the gedolim on this matter, and why we should say “Baruch Hashem that we have such gedolim who can see things from a perspective better than our own.”

  6. alan jay gerber says:

    as always m.schick is right on the mark.the agudah and chareidi crowd given their new
    found lierary venues should utilize them in a menschlch manner,if you dont like some
    literary work:dont ban it pan it!

  7. Sholom says:

    The comaparison between Rav Moshe’s ban of Peirushei Rabbi Yehudah HeChossid and the Slifkin ban is quite apt — and it shows very precisely what is wrong with the current one.

    Unlike the Rabbonim of the Slifkin ban, Rav Moshe wrote two (not just one!) full-length teshuvos to explain exactly what parts he found problematic and why they were problematic, citing sources. He also dealt with possible objections to his rationale by quoting those sources and dealing with them. He hoped to win the day through the power of his argument,not
    through the flexing of his muscles.
    In the end, the author went to a Din Torah and a different set of Rabbonim reached a settlement whereby the book
    would be printed. No one thought that this was tantamount to “going against Da’as Torah” and therefore illegal.
    The differences between the Rav Moshe’s modus operandi vs that of the current banners is like night and day.

  8. A simple Yid says:

    With all due respect to Rabbi Refson, Dr. Schick is right on point when he says: ” The condemnation of Rabbi Slifkin’s work and other works by Orthodox Jews has the collateral effect of turning people away from our religion.” I know because, unfortunately, Yeshiva product and all, I am slowly (r’l) am becoming a victim.
    While you write: “can we afford to ignore the simple fact that that almost all the great rabbis of the world have united in condemnation of the book. ( including such luminaries as rabbi dovid feinstein shlitoh whose name appears so rarely in connection with controversy of any kind!)” the answer is resoundingly “yes!” The collateral damage from the “ban” is much worse than the damage from reading R. Slifkin’s books (which I have; have you?) which come with bona fide m’koros. Respectfully, someone should be bring this to the attention of those who signed the “ban” in the hope that they will either retract or at the very least think twice before signing something similar in the future.

  9. Moshe Feldman says:

    Dovid,
    While Rav Dovid Feinstein and the more right-wing roshei yeshiva have supported the ban, I understand that many of the more moderate roshei yeshiva do not agree with the ban but are not publicly saying anything. Eight of the nine makimim to R. Slifkin’s book have not retracted their haskamos.

  10. #1 – Where I’m conming from:

    a) raised in a religious Conservative household, attended a Famous yeshiva age 10 and 11. Minored in Religion at college.

    b) Currently attend a Reform shul (the only one in town) that prays from the Reconstructionist siddur in Mid-Missouri.

    c) Studied with a Famous scholar at a Famous Mid-West Ortho hangout until the day 40 students surrounded me with mayhem in their faces and spittle on their lips because I said that Baruch Goldstein had committed hillul HaShem and his rabbi should be excommunicated.

    #2 What I know:

    a) Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.

    b) The Righteous folks of the day burned the books of the Rambam.

    c) The Talmud says somewhere that we should follow the Greek scientists if they know more than we do.

    d) The Talmud or Rashi or somebody says somewhere that we are to read the creation stories of B’reishit as poetry and midrash.

    e) The calendar considers the first six days (or Six Days) as virtual days, not 24-hour ones.

    f) Banning books makes Orthos look like Ayatollahs — and closed-minded fools. The American Tom Jefferson, defending the First Amendment, said that the best way to operate in the Marketplace of Ideas is to speak truth to falsehood.

    Don’t like the boy’s book? Tell us why and sign it. Try to put it in English.

  11. Leapa says:

    Michoel, disagreeing is not denigrating. R’ Aharon emphatically disagreed with others, yet kept up warm personal relations with them.

  12. Michoel says:

    When the Brisker Rav issued a cherem against Heichal Shlomo and was subsequntly degraded by certain more Zionistic rabbanim, Rav Aharon was extremely strong in his support of the Brisker Rav. I heard from a witness that we was on fire with indignant rage at the slight to the Brisker Rav’s honor. I ask you, is there not more than one valid opinion regarding Heichal Shlomo? So if Rav Eliyashiv says no re R. Slifkin, do you not think we are playing with matches be belittling him.

  13. Joe Schick says:

    Leapa asks: “What do you think [R. Aharon Kotler] would have thought about the various bans and cherems so popular today?”

    I’m not qualified to answer this question on my father’s behalf, but in a previous article, following the banning of Making Of A Godol, he wrote:

    “We often point to the life and example of the outstanding Torah personalities who led our community during the formative post-Holocaust years, people of great stature who gave us inspiration and direction. There is a lesson to be learned from how they exercised their vast and essentially unchallenged authority, how they led by example and teaching and not by issuing a constant stream of prohibitory rulings.

    “The foremost of these Torah giants was the great Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood. In the twenty years of his fervent and fevered activity on behalf of the Torah world, he essentially was responsible for just one major prohibitory ruling, it being against Orthodox membership in rabbinical bodies with non-Orthodox Jews. This ruling came more than fifteen years after he arrived on these shores. In that great period of the development of American Orthodox Jewry, the Gedolei Torah were constantly occupied with major issues. They did not shirk their obligation to lead and they did not lead by prohibiting that which perhaps should have been criticized and not prohibited.”

    The full article is at http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/bookbanning.html

  14. Michoel says:

    espaklarya,
    First let me reiterate that the cases were very different. I do belive that there are things that we can learn from that t’shuvah. To begin to answer your point, it depends on where you are coming from. If you have already concluded that Rabbi Slifkin is correct that world is actually 14 billion years old, than you already have very little emunah in those that insist that the world was created in six days in a finished form. So there isn’t emunas chachamim to lose there.

  15. Michoel says:

    Shimon and anyone else interested in the above mentioned Igros Moshe,
    See in the Yad Moshe under k’fira. It is listed there somewhere. I have started my own blog at http://aniyasdaati.blogspot.com/ to discuss some of these issues in greater detail. I’d greatly appreciate any visits and comments that anyone can offer.

    Michoel

  16. Michoel says:

    Shimon,
    Please see the t’shuvah inside. They would have buried Sefer Yechezkel. The reason they didn’t was because they were able in the end to be m’yashev their kasheh. I agree that there may be anti-Slifkin-ban lessons to be learned. But Reb Moshe actually says very clearly that even though preserving Torah and the mitzvah to learn the entire Torah is so great, damage to people’s emunah is a greater concern. Please see inside what he says.

  17. dovid refson says:

    my dear friend dr. marvin shick is correct in recognising how such actions make the torah world appear as reactionary and regressive. whatever the collateral damage however, can we afford to ignore the simple fact that that almost all the great rabbis of the world have united in condemnation of the book. ( including such luminaries as rabbi dovid feinstein shlitoh whose name appears so rarely in connection with controversy of any kind!) noone was as vocal in demanding emunas chachomim as the rebbe of dr.shick rabbi aharon kotler zatzal who taught that to ignore the words of the gedolim is to cut off the branch upon which we torah jews are perched.

  18. espaklarya says:

    Dr. Schick: Excellent post.

    “The damage that it stood to do to poeples emunah was more important than losing part of the Torah.”

    This incident has done much damage to emunat chachomim. It is hard to imagine a single incident that could do more to lower the honor of torah and those who study it than this episode has done.

  19. Leapa says:

    I agree with you, and don’t understand the reaction against pluralism in our community increasing as it has over the last 25 years. Are we so frail? The ban on the internet is another example. (There is a blog, http://frumnet.blogspot.com dedicated to this)

    Dr. Schick, you once referred to a statement the (late?) Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva made vis-a-vis tzedaka for mosdos chinuch on a response to a comment I made to your post What do you think he would have thought about the various bans and cherems so popular today?

  20. Shimon says:

    But they did not surpress Yehezkel. The lesson could just as easily be that preserving Torah is ultimately more important than speculated potential damage to some people’s emunah.

  21. Michoel says:

    There is a long Igros Moshe where he paskens that a supposed sefer of Rebbi Yehudah HaChasid was a forgery and therefore had to be buried. It is very worth seeing inside for anyone that wants to understand bans b’zman hazeh. The cases are far from analygous but there is a lot to learn from it. (I don’t remember the siman off hand but anyone can look in the Yad Moshe and find it.) It is interesting that Rav Shlomo Zalman and Rav Eliyashiv were open to publishing the sefer after editing out the k’firah but Reb Moshe was more machmir and insisted that it be banned. His main point is that we see that Chazal wanted to bury sefer Yechezkel even though they new it was an integral part of Tanach and pure emes. The damage that it stood to do to poeples emunah was more important than losing part of the Torah. Please see it inside.

  22. Greg says:

    I agree that the ban is uncalled for, but I don’t agree with the reasoning being that we need to foster an environment that is hospitable to kiruv. This implies that at some point, when we’ve converted all the unbelievers, we can return to solipsism, rightfully and blissfully ignoring the challenges presented by the conflict between faith and reason. I’d rather we acknowledge the truth and build our society around it than adopting a position for the sake of pandering to the unconverted. Whatsmore, looking at kiruv as a numbers game is, in my opinion, despicable and dangerous, and probably leaves you with more problems than when you started.

  23. Shimon says:

    Well said. But you write “In the present period, bans are counterproductive”.

    Are you saying that strategically bans are not good or that they aren’t good in and of themselves? Was it appropriate to issue bans in other periods?